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As we enter the busy holiday season, our goal this year is to add nature back into people’s overflowing calendars by inviting them to join us in some of our family traditions. We all know the calming effect nature tends to have on us, yet we often get too busy this time of year to take advantage of the free therapy right outside our doors. By making something a tradition, a ritual, or an “annual” event for your family nature club, members and friends are invited to begin new traditions of their own.

This Thanksgiving, our family will pack up the SUV and head out for our traditional week-long camping trip. We usually invite a friend or two to join us (last year we froze in Joshua Tree National Park), but this year we extended the invitation to our club, Family Adventures in Nature. While only a few will likely be able to join us (alas, so many traditions to compete with at Thanksgiving!), many have already signed up to join us for day-hikes too! I say we turn “Black Friday” into “Green Friday” and avoid the malls that day altogether.

For Christmas, we always take a family hike, usually in the afternoon on Christmas Day, adding our own little outdoor twist to a traditionally indoor holiday. Also a good reminder about what we value most on a day that seems to be overtaken by materialism. That is a ritual we’ve decided to keep in the family, but in our weekly newsletter, I’ll invite people to consider starting their own traditions and sharing what they do with others as inspiration. Those who celebrate something other than Christmas? I'd love to know how nature plays a role in their traditions too!

Another tradition we started two years ago with our club is our Annual New Year’s Day hike. We don’t start this one too early for obvious reasons, and we visit the same open space reserve each year. This will be our third hike there on New Year’s Day, and we can’t wait to see how things have changed, yet remained the same.

 

So why am I writing all this here? I’m wondering about what “nature” traditions you have this time of year. Do you get out and about with your family to enjoy the crisp fall air? Would you consider widening the circle and inviting your club to join some of your family nature rituals at this time of year? I’d like to invite you and your club to join us for an Annual New Year’s Day Hike, from afar, wherever you are. I wonder how many clubs and members we can get out that day? While we’re hiking through chaparral, enjoying lunch on the boulders, will your club be traipsing through the snow or having a muddy play day or…? Will you start a new tradition with us?

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Speaking personally about my family (not re my school) here are a few of our holiday traditions:

* We always go for a walk at the park at the beach on the day after Christmas - with 3 young children, the fresh air and wide open spaces are a good balance to the heightened energies of the season! We live in Connecticut, so it is usually a bracing day weather-wise, and it feels great. New Year's Day, and many of the vacation days during that school break, include long dog walks together as a family since we have so much time to be together in this way during that time.

* The Nature Center near us does a family "waddle" walk on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and this is always lots of fun (visit www.NewCanaanNature.org for more info)

* We read Eve Bunting's book Night Tree many times during the holiday season, and we do our own smaller version of this type of holiday tree outside every year

* In general, we do very little chain store/box store shopping at any time of year, and the idea of the crowds and shopping (at midnight!) on the day after Thanksgiving is the last thing on my mind that day. I love the idea of Green Friday. We do support the local store shopping "movement" on that Saturday - I forget what it is called.

* When we give to our local organizations at any time of year (food bank, church-sponsored/community food and clothing collections and so on) we often include pet supplies (bag of food, treats, etc) so that our neighbors in need can continue to take care of their furry friends

Our family tradition that we started about 5 years ago is we leave our suburban home as soon as the kids are out of school and head up to our cottage and spend the holidays up there. We make holiday treats for our furry friends, clear off the lake and play hockey, tobaggan, snowshoe and anything else we can do in the winter, snow covered northern Ontario (Canada). 

 

Then we invite family and friends to join us and bring in the new year. It is a great time every year.

I love the idea of 'Green Friday' and will pass that idea along to friends and family.  I am deeply disturbed by the rampant consumerism in our society at all times of the year, and support antidotes to cure this 'disease'.  So many have no choice but to get by with 'less', and if those that have 'more' would make better choices about what they truly 'need', we would all soon see that 'less is more'.

It hasn't become an ebmedded tradition yet, but last New Year's Day I enjoyed a spectacular hike with my boyfriend, sister and 4 of our kids.  Truly memorable and what a great way to kick off the new year.  Unfortunately the days before and after Christmas often involve more driving than I would like as we try to include aging family members who otherwise wouldn't be able to join us for a holiday celebration.  I believe it's important to do what we can to keep the bonds forged while we still have the opportunity.

Happy Holidays to all, however they might be celebrated.  I am truly thankful for my family and many other blessings. 

Love this idea of Nature Traditions at the holidays, Janice.  I am enjoying reading about everyone's traditions.  I try to be outside as much as possible here in the Northwest.  Winters are getting long, but the change of seasons is always a magical time for me, and every once in a while, my old body enjoys a quiet walk late at night with snow falling, or a walk on a clear night with stars everywhere and the moon playing games with my shadow.  Just unplug, get outside, and breathe.  Thanks for this opportunity to share with the group. 

As the "season" comes to a close, I am delighted to reflect and follow-up on this article. We kept our Christmas Eve tradition of hiking -- and though we didn't invite our whole club along, we did invite some close friends and it was a wonderful day. Beautiful weather, lots of exploring (we found a dead barn owl, a baby grasshopper, lots of water fowl and a great egret up close!) and great company of course. It was fantastic.

Family Adventures in Nature enjoyed quite warm weather on our 3rd Annual New Year's Day hike! Nearly 70 people, from young toddlers through adults came out to a fabulous open space preserve that boasts a gorgeous oak oasis settled in and surrounded by chaparral, the habitat in San Diego County (while there are many habitats, chaparral is the most common yet least understood). We hiked, explored and played in nature's playground for some three hours! The highlight was seeing the kids organize themselves into jumping over a trench formed by the creek that runs through the preserve (this was enjoyed for over a 1/2 hour!):

Several families also shared with me that they started a new Christmas Eve tradition of hiking in some of our wonderful areas here in San Diego. .. Mission accomplished!

How did your season turn out? Did you continue or start any new nature traditions this year??

Hi Janice. Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your traditions and inspiring all of us. I love the idea of marking and celebrating holidays outdoors! This year, my family took a Christmas Day hike. It was so beautiful that we pledged to take a family hike at least once a month and to try some new trails. We are surrounded by trails where I live and there are still a great many we haven't explored yet.

We also enjoyed a tradition that we've done often and that never gets old. Our local national park (Muir Woods) stays open extra late each Winter Solstice. People gather in the afternoon to make crowns out of winter greens. As the park gets dark, people enjoy shadow-puppet plays and singing (led by the rangers) and walks through the wooded trails, which are lit only by luminaria along the paths. A group carols in costume, and this year did a reindeer dance (complete with antlers), for those who happened upon them. My family and I found it completely magical to explore the woods in the dark on the longest night of the year and honor the changing season the way I imagine our ancestors did.

I hope others will share their new and old holiday nature traditions in this and all seasons.

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